Saturday, 24 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the passages from the Scripture, speaking to us about obeying the laws and commandments set by God and which He has revealed to us, His beloved people. God has set those laws and commandments that we may walk in the right paths and do what is pleasing to Him, and as we have been made God’s own people, and adopted as His own children, we must do what God, Our Lord and Our Father, has done and taught us.

But what does it mean for us to obey God’s laws and commandments? What is it like for us to be truly faithful to Him? Is it that we have to follow the rules and regulations as set by the Church and all of the teachings passed down unto us through the bishops and the priests? Is it that we have to attend and participate in the Mass every Sundays and also on the days of obligation as set by the Church?

If we have done all of these and nothing else, then I am afraid that we may not have gotten the essence of what it truly means to be Christians. It does not mean that we should not have done what we have done. In fact, it is absolutely necessary that we fulfil our obligations to the rules and the requirements that the Church has clearly stated for us. However, have we done our duty as Christians and fulfilled our obligations with the right purpose and intention in mind?

If we did not do all our actions with the right purpose and intention, even if we obey the Lord’s laws and commandments, it is likely that we will end up getting no better than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, those whom the Lord Jesus rebuked and condemned for their hypocrisy and lack fo faith, as they obeyed the laws and commandments, and in fact, strictly enforced a rigid and excessive obedience to the laws as taught by Moses and preserved by the elders of Israel.

But they have not done these for the greater glory of God, or because they truly love God or His people. They did not have God or His people in their minds, and they even misused their authority to gain more prestige, power and approval for themselves. Whatever they have done, have not been considered to be righteous in the sight of God, but instead wicked and sinful, as God is not at the forefront of their minds.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is it that we need to do, with our lives, that we may be faithful to the Lord in all the things that we do? We have to realise that the Law of God is not mere formality or empty without meaning. Instead, God gave us the Law and the commandments, because He wants each and every one of us to know about love, that is first and foremost, the love which He has for each and every one of us, His beloved children.

The Law of God is not about all the rules and regulations which the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law often enforced on the people, without understanding, realising and appreciating the true meaning and purpose of those laws. The Law of God is about love, loving God, the One Who created us and loved us, with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and indeed our entire being and effort. That is the essence of the first three commandments of the Ten Commandments.

And then, after having loved God sincerely and tenderly, then we should also show the same love to our brothers and sisters, to those who we encounter in our lives, our friends and neighbours, our relatives and family members. But the Lord in the Gospel passage today challenged us even further, calling on us to also love those who have wronged us and considered us as enemies. He called on us to forgive those who have wronged us and trespassed against us, and show them love, mercy and compassion.

That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is the true essence of discipleship, that is Christian discipleship, following the Lord with all of our strength, and doing our best to love our brethren, in the same way, with all of our hearts, and pray for the sake of and forgive our enemies, in the footsteps of Our Lord Himself, Who forgave all of those who have condemned Him to death on the cross, and prayed for the sake of those who cried out for His death.

Let us all strive, that in this blessed season of Lent, a season of forgiveness and realisation of God’s most abundant mercy, we may come ever closer to the Lord, and reexamine our life’s actions, so that in everything we do, in everything we say and act, we may come ever closer to God’s ways and be ever more worthy of Him, day after day, as we turn away from our sinful past, and embrace God’s love ever more, and share that love with one another.

May the Lord bless us all, and may He empower each and every one of us to live ever more faithfully and appreciate the love with which Our God has shown us every day and every moment of our lives. May we be able to find our way to Him and to His redemption, that all of us as Christians may be worthy of His saving grace, at the end of time. Amen.

Saturday, 24 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 5 : 43-48

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples and to the people, “You have heard that it was said : Love your neighbour and do not do good to your enemy. But this I tell you : love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. For He makes His sun rise on both the wicked and the good, and He gives rain to both the just and the unjust.”

“If you love those who love you, what is special about that? Do not even tax collectors do as much? And if you are friendly only to your friends, what is so exceptional about that? Do not even the pagans do as much? As for you, be righteous and perfect in the way your heavenly Father is righteous and perfect.”

Saturday, 24 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 118 : 1-2, 4-5, 7-8

Blessed are they whose ways are upright, who follow the Law of the Lord. Blessed are they who treasure His word and seek Him with all their heart.

You have laid down precepts to be obeyed. O, that my ways were steadfast in observing Your statutes!

I will praise You with an upright spirit when I learn Your just precepts by heart. I mean to observe Your commandments. O, never abandon me.

Saturday, 24 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Deuteronomy 26 : 16-19

On this day, YHVH, your God, commands you to fulfil these norms and these commandments. Obey them now and put them into practice with all your heart and with all your soul.

Today YHVH has declared to you that He will be your God, and so you shall follow His ways, observing His norms, His commandments and His laws, and listening to His voice. Today YHVH has declared that you will be His very own people even as He had promised you, and you must obey all His commandments.

He, for His part, will give you honour, renown and glory, and set you high above all the nations He has made, and you will become a nation consecrated to YHVH, your God, as He has declared.

Friday, 23 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day from the book of the prophet Ezekiel we heard about the salvation of God’s people and how it all depends not on how a person’s current standing or status, but on what the person has done and committed in life. The prophet Ezekiel made it clear through the example of a holy and devout man who sinned, and by whose sins the man would be judged and condemned, as well as sinners who would be redeemed if they would turn away from their sins.

This is related to what we heard in the Gospel passage, regarding the Lord’s teaching to the people about being faithful to God in the right way. The Lord mentioned how the people must be faithful more than how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had been faithful in their ways or else they would not be able to enter into the kingdom of God.

In order to appreciate and understand the fullness of the meaning of these Scripture passages, we have to understand the context in which the Lord made such a comment about the two groups of people He mentioned. Otherwise we may end up failing to understand just how important they are to our own salvation and life.

The Pharisees were influential group of people who were highly educated by the standard of the time, as were the teachers of the Law, where the Pharisees were a political grouping of those who favour strict interpretation and enforcement of the laws of Moses among the people. Meanwhile the teachers of the Law taught those laws among the people and interpreted them in accordance to their beliefs.

These two groups of people were often considered pious and authoritative in terms of religion. And they basked in the praise and adulation they received from the people, even expecting them to follow what they were doing. But many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law did not observe the Law for the right reasons. They did them to garner support and praise, and to advance their prestige and status rather than any genuine faith in God.

That was why the Lord often rebuked them for their hypocrisy in faith, saying to the people one thing and yet doing it in an entirely different manner and for different purpose. They expect the people to obey their strict interpretation of the laws of Moses, and yet, they did not perform their observances for the right reasons as mentioned. Is this what we have also done with our own lives? Remember what the prophet Ezekiel said, that even those who were considered pious will be judged should they fall into sin, exactly what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are called to be true disciples of the Lord, following and obeying what the Lord had taught us to do. We should not become like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who did not follow the laws and commandments for the right reasons. When we follow the laws and the teachings of the Church, we must first and foremost do them with God first and foremost in our hearts and minds.

Otherwise, it is easy for us to fall into the same trap that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had fallen into. God calls everyone to be faithful to Him, in their hearts, minds and whole beings. What He told the prophet Ezekiel is a reminder for us that no one is beyond God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Even sinners, as all of us are, will be made and considered righteous for whatever good deeds we do in our lives, done with the right purpose and intention, that is with the intention of the greater glory of God.

Let us all follow the examples of St. Polycarp, holy bishop and martyr of the Faith. He was a bishop of the early Church, who led the faithful and God’s flock in the region of Smyrna in Asia Minor. He was a faithful successor of the Apostles, who converted many to the faith by his teachings and exemplary faith. He helped the spiritual growth of many people, and was martyred in his old age after many years of service, having refused to offer incense to the Roman Emperor who was then worshipped like a god.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are called to do what the faithful St. Polycarp and our holy predecessors, the saints and martyrs had done. We have to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, without being distracted by our worldly concerns and desires. We must learn to let go of our pride, our human desires and greed, and learn to put God first and ourselves second. Otherwise, we will end up like those who put their own interests ahead of God’s interests, and thus likely to fall into sin.

Let us all renew our faith, that we may live ever more faithfully day after day, in accordance with the way that the Lord has shown us, following in the footsteps of the saints, particularly remembering the memory of the good and faithful St. Polycarp the bishop and martyr. May the Lord strengthen our faith, and give us the courage to live our lives ever more in accordance with His will. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Friday, 23 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 5 : 20-26

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “I tell you then, if you are not righteous in a much broader way than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to our people in the past : Do not commit murder; anyone who does kill will have to face trial. But now I tell you : whoever gets angry with a brother or sister will have to face trial.”

“Whoever insults a brother or sister deserves to be brought before the council. Whoever calls a brother or a sister, ‘Fool!’ deserves to be thrown into the fire of hell. So, if you are about to offer your gift at the altar, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with him, and then come back and offer your gift to God.”

“Do not forget this : be reconciled with your opponent quickly when you are together on the way to court. Otherwise he will turn you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, who will put you in jail. There you will stay, until you have paid the last penny.”

Friday, 23 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 129 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8

Out of the depths I cry to You, o Lord, o Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears pay attention to the voice of my supplication.

If You should mark our evil, o Lord, who could stand? But with You is forgiveness.

For that You are revered. I waited for the Lord, my soul waits, and I put my hope in His word. My soul expects the Lord more than watchmen the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the Lord, for with Him is unfailing love and with Him full deliverance. He will deliver Israel from all its sins.